Things to consider while wishing Steve Harvey had been the host of Super Bowl XLII:
— This win was a perfect reminder of why not only do I not shy away from being called a Patriots homer, I embrace it. If ever there was a sports franchise to “home” for and a time to do it, it’s this team, and now is the time. I went from infancy to adulthood without seeing the Patriots win 12 games in a season. This put them over 12 wins for the sixth season in a row, the 10th just since 2003. If you’re so ignorant of history and utterly lacking in perspective that you need to slap a label on people for calling this unprecedented streak of success what it is, the real issue isn’t about me being a homer. It’s what’s wrong with you that you are not.
— And during those first 43 years of the Patriots’ existence when winning 12 games was unthinkable, this is exactly the kind of game they used to kick away on the regular. A struggling opponent with nothing to play for, the week before a game against a division rival. This was the classic trap game where they’d be caught looking ahead and underachieve. But instead, this one becomes just another unmemorable win among dozens in this Bradichick Epoch. Tennessee is just another vanquished foe. Some village on the Steppes or Chinese city the Mongols wiped out as they expanded their empire across Asia. And we’ll have to look up the box score on Pro Football Reference years from now to remember what happened. Because this team takes care of its business.
— The best unit on the field for either side was the Patriots defensive line, which was the Brute Squad all day long. From the opening possession when the Pats forced a Tennessee three-and-out, to Jabaal Sheard smothering Antonio Andrews on an attempted screen pass to force Akiem Hicks’ sack, the D-linemen set a tone early and never took their foot off the Titans’ windpipe.
— Sheard has been particularly dominant as the season has gone on. As I’ve said before, anyone can be plugged into this system and become a 10-sack guy. Just ask Tully Banta-Cain‘s agent. But Sheard is doing way more than being just (to use Mike Pettine’s expression) a bitch-kitty pass rusher. On a third-and-1 in the second quarter, the Titans shifted to an offset-I away from his side, so he shifted tight to the end, blew up a block attempt by Dorial Green-Beckham and stuffed Jalston Fowler for no gain. He did pick up his obligatory sack at the end of the half, sending a demoralized Tennessee slinking off to the locker room to hide its shame while a creative genius on the Gillette Stadium staff cued up “Wrecking Ball.” Ndamukong Suh‘s signing got all the pageviews this offseason, but Sheard might be the biggest defensive free agent difference-maker in the AFC East.
— That was the play that forced the punt Danny Amendola put on the ground in the traditional Patriots Fumbled Punt of the Week. Not for nothing, but if I was facing this Pats defense right now, I’d start punting on first down. The muffed punt is the most effective offensive weapon teams have against New England right now.
— Of course the biggest play by far by the defensive front was Chandler Jones’ strip sack of Marcus Mariota, which was a perfect holiday punch made with of equal parts talent and technique. Tackle Taylor Lewan engaged him but didn’t get his hands inside Jones’ and under his shoulder pads. So Jones got his inside arm across Lewan, drove him backward and was able to get that arm free and slap the ball free. Obviously it couldn’t have worked out better. Though someone in the D-line meeting might want to point out to Hicks that no one is going to think less of a 6-foot, 5-inch, 325-pound fat guy if he just falls on a fumble inside the 5-yard line instead of trying to pick it up and run it in. You lucked out, big fella. But in the future just focus on recovering it.
— Speaking of Mariota, far be it for me to tell the Titans how to run their operation. But if I drafted a guy to be my franchise quarterback, I’d consider having a knee brace in his size available on the sideline. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
— At the risk of oversimplifying things, it looked like the Pats came out in their base 4-2-5. Then as Tennessee remained committed to running the ball, the Pats brought in Dont’a Hightower for a traditional 4-3. Once Hightower went down, it became more of an old school 3-4, with Jerod Mayo and Jamie Collins in the middle and Jones/Sheard switching off on the outside opposite Rob Ninkovich.
— And Jon Bostic subbed in for Mayo just long enough to let Delanie Walker slip free for a 57-yard catch and run while simultaneously taking Pat Chung out in a friendly fire incident. It’s hard to imagine anyone ever doing two worse things on one play than that. If it had been a game of pool, he wouldn’t get credit for a combo shot that bad unless he called it. “The 82 ball off the 23 ball, into the corner of the end zone …”
— I’m starting an Offensive Pass Interference Pool for every game the rest of the season. Pick the time of the game the Patriots inevitably get hosed by an OPI call and how many yards the play negates. On Sunday, 8:24 of the fourth and 70 yards would have gotten you the prize. With Keshawn Martin getting flagged for the same pick play we see two dozen times every single game without a penalty called. There must be some way the Patriots can master this subtle art. Perhaps there’s a retreat they can go to. A week long sleepaway Pick Play Camp we can send the coaches and players to, where instructors can fully immerse them in the finer points. Because whatever they’re doing isn’t working, and it’s been killing them for years.
— Yes, the offense went all “Error 404: File not found” once Amendola went down. But looking at the X’s and O’s, it was a classic Tom Brady-Dick LeBeau battle in a Fight Club basement. With Brady getting the win, as usual.
— LeBeau went with his usual assortment of zone blitzes, fire zones and overloaded sides. And the McOffense responded with a lot of motions to stretch the coverage sideways. The big 29-yarder to Jojo LaFell on the first drive being a prime example. Brady motioned LaFell in to create a stack with Martin. Then as cornerback B.W. Webb dropped off into a deep zone, LaFell scraped behind the linebackers and Brady hit him in stride.
— And the Pats‘ screen game, which struggled early in the season but has come on lately, had its finest hour. The touchdown to James White was perfection. His interior linemen formed a wall in the middle of the field, which White cut toward before he went behind a great kickout from David Andrews on Blidi Wreh-Wilson and two terrific upfield blocks from LaFell and Amendola for the score.
— But to me, Brady’s best was the off-balance parabola he hit LaFell with in the fourth. LeBeau got away from his usual “safe pressure” philosophy, fired all his rounds then threw the gun. He rushed seven on the play, and Brady, knowing he had one-on-one coverage across the board, trusted his guy to come down with it. Nobody has cracked LeBeau’s code like Brady has.
— Not to get all political on you, but I feel the need to point out that some cultures embrace the practice of “honor killing” rape victims. Whereas our entire way of life is best symbolized by pro football cheerleaders dressed in sexy Santa Claus outfits. Why would anyone want to be anything but American?
— I can’t believe I’ve gone this far without even mentioning our latest instant folk hero, Joey Iosefa. Granted, his 51 yards on 14 attempts wasn’t exactly Adrian Peterson dropping 296 on San Diego in 2007. But never underestimate this region’s ability to take a Pacific Islander with an interesting backstory and turn him into a legend. We are, after all, the people who got Mosi Tatupu famous enough that his name was used on a “Simpsons” episode to mean “the blue-haired woman will make a fine sacrifice.”
— I have to feel the “Mosi’s Mooses” infrastructure is still in place to make Iosefa a household word. If for nothing else than that play when he put Coty Sensabaugh on his ass. Sensabaugh went down so easily I thought he was going draw the offensive foul, Tennessee’s ball.
— Jon Gruden Nickname of the Week: “I gotta tell ya, I love this kid Joey Iosefa. I call him ‘Spam’ because he’s really popular in Hawaii and he can kill ya!”
— The best part about next weekend’s game is we’ll stop getting bombarded with all the ads for Christmas gifts I couldn’t possibly afford. Fewer luxury cars and jewelry, more beer. I hate to break it to Kay, but in my house every kiss begins with box wine.
— And on that note, I’m going to miss saying, “I went to Jared’s,” and then have the gift be a Subway card. Thanks, Fogel. You had to be a predatory monster and ruin a perfectly good bit.
— This Week’s Applicable Movie Quote: “According to Greek mythology, the Titans were greater even than the gods. They ruled their universe with absolute power. Well, that football field out there tonight is our universe.” — Coach Boone, “Remember the Titans”
— Beating the Jets will not suffice. I need Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler to dominate. Or to be more specific, play better than Darrelle Revis. If back in the spring when the Jets blatantly tampered him out of New England, you told me that was even a possibility, I would’ve laughed in your face. Homer or not. But in a season of best-case scenarios, it’s not only possible, it’s likely.
— We’re on to a playoff bye.
DraftKings has your shot to play for FREE in the $1 Million Fantasy Football Contest THIS SUNDAY! First place takes home $100,000! FOR FREE ENTRY, CLICK HERE.